Lane v. Wilson, No. 460

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtFRANKFURTER
Citation307 U.S. 268,83 L.Ed. 1281,59 S.Ct. 872
Docket NumberNo. 460
Decision Date22 May 1939
PartiesLANE v. WILSON et al

307 U.S. 268
59 S.Ct. 872
83 L.Ed. 1281
LANE

v.

WILSON et al.

No. 460.
Argued March 3, 1939.
Decided May 22, 1939.

Page 269

Messrs. Charles A. Chandler, of Muskogee, Okl., and James M. Nabrit, Jr., of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Messrs. Joseph C. Stone, of Muskogee, Okl., and Charles G. Watts, of Wagoner, Okl., for respondents.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The case is here on certiorari to review the judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirming that of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, entered upon a directed verdict in favor of the defendants. The action was one for $5,000 damages brought under Section 1979 of the Revised Statutes, 8 U.S.C. § 43, 8 U.S.C.A. § 43, by a colored citizen claiming discriminatory treatment resulting from electoral legislation of Oklahoma, in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment, U S.C.A. Const. Certiorari was granted, 305 U.S. 591, 59 S.Ct. 249, 83 L.Ed. —-, because of the importance of the question and an asserted conflict with the decision in Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S.Ct. 926, 59 L.Ed. 1340, L.R.A.1916A, 1124.

The constitution under which Oklahoma was admitted into the Union regulated the suffrage by Article III, Okl.St.Ann., whereby its 'qualified electors' were to be 'citizens of the State * * * who are over the age of twenty-one years' with disqualifications in the case of felons, paupers and lunatics. Section 1. Soon after its admission the suffrage provisions of the Oklahoma Constitution were radically amended by the addition of a literacy test from which white voters were in effect relieved through the operation of a 'grandfather clause.' Okl.St.Ann.Const. art. 3, § 4a. The clause was stricken down by this Court as violative of the prohibition against discrimination 'on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude' of the Fifteenth Amendment. This outlawry occurred on June 21, 1915. In the meantime the Oklahoma general election of 1914 had been based on the

Page 270

offending 'grandfather clause.' After the invalidation of that clause a special session of the Oklahoma legislature enacted a new scheme for registration as a prerequisite to voting. Oklahoma Laws of 1916, Act of February 26, 1916, c. 24. Section 4 of this statute (now Section 5654, Oklahoma Statutes 1931, 26 Okl.St.Ann. § 74) 1 was obviously

Page 271

directed towards the consequences of the decision in Guinn v. United States, supra. Those who had voted in the general election of 1914, automatically remained qualified voters. The new registration requirements affected only others. These had to apply for registration between April 30, 1916 and May 11, 1916, if qualified at that time, with an extension to June 30, 1916, given only to those 'absent from the county * * * during such period of time, or * * * prevented by sickness or unavoidable misfortune from registering * * * within such time'. The crux of the present controversy is the validity of this registration scheme, with its dividing line between white citizens who had voted under the 'grandfather clause' immunity prior to Guinn v. United States, supra, and citizens who were outside it, and the not more than 12 days as the normal period of registration for the theretofore proscribed class.

The petitioner, a colored citizen of Oklahoma, who was the plaintiff below and will hereafter be referred to as such, sued three county election officials for declining to register him on October 17, 1934. He was qualified for registration in 1916 but did not then get on the registration list. The evidence is in conflict whether he presented himself in that year for registration and, if so, under what circumstances registration was denied him. The fact is that plaintiff did not get on the register in 1916. Under the terms of the statute he thereby permanently lost the right to register and hence the right to vote. The central claim of plaintiff is that of the unconstitutionality of Section 5654. The defendants joined issue on this claim and further insisted that if there had been illegality

Page 272

in a denial of the plaintiff's right to registration, his proper recourse was to the courts of Oklahoma. The District Court took the case from the jury and its action was affirmed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. It found no proof of discrimination against negroes in the administration of Section 5654 and denied that the legislation was in conflict with the Fifteenth Amendment. 10 Cir., 98 F.2d 980.

The defendants urge two bars to the plaintiff's recovery, apart from the constitutional validity of Section 5654. They say that on the plaintiff's own assumption of its invalidity, there is no Oklahoma statute under which he could register and therefore no right to registration has been denied. Secondly, they argue that the state procedure for determining claims of discrimination must be employed before invoking a federal judiciary. These contentions will be considered first, for the disposition of a constitutional question must be reserved to the last.

The first objection derives from a misapplication of Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 640, 47 L.Ed. 909. In that case a bill in equity was brought by a colored man on behalf of himself 'and on behalf of more than five thousand negroes, citizens of the county of Montgomery, Alabama, similarly situated' which in effect asked the federal court 'to supervise the voting in that State by officers of the court.' What this Court called a 'new and extraordinary situation' was found 'strikingly' to reinforce 'the argument that equity cannot undertake now, any more than it has in the past, to enforce political rights'. See 189 U.S. at page 487, 23 S.Ct. at page 642, 47 L.Ed. 909.2 Apart from this traditional restriction upon the exercise of equitable jurisdiction there was another difficulty in Giles v. Harris, supra. The plaintiff there was in effect asking for specific performance of his right under

Page 273

Alabama electoral legislation. This presupposed the validity of the legislation under which he was claiming. But the whole theory of his bill was the invalidity of this legislation. Naturally enough, this Court took his claim at its face value and found no legislation on the basis of which specific performance could be decreed.3

This case is very different from Giles v. Harris, supra—the difference having been explicitly foreshadowed by Giles v. Harris, supra itself. In that case this Court declared 'we are not prepared to say that an action at law could not be maintained on the facts alleged in the bill.' 189 U.S. at page 485, 23 S.Ct. at page 641, 47 L.Ed. 909. That is precisely the basis of the present action, brought under the...

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335 practice notes
  • Lucas v. Wisconsin Electric Power Company, No. 71-1113.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 2, 1972
    ...238 U.S. 368, 35 S.Ct. 932, 59 L.Ed. 1349 (1915); Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, 47 S.Ct. 446, 71 L.Ed. 759 (1927); Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281 (1939), and misuse of state authority in ways not intended by the State, see, e. g., Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 8......
  • Sheridan v. Garrison, Civ. A. No. 67-1147.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 28, 1967
    ...facts would create a cause of action for damages. Compare Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909, with Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed 1281."The relation of ...
  • Romero v. Weakley, No. 1712-SD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 5, 1955
    ...v. Harris, 1903, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (the principles of which are affirmed but distinguished in Lane v. Wilson, 1939, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L. Ed. 1281), is authority for the proposition that a court of equity would be justified in a Fourteenth Amendment case i......
  • NATIONAL ASS'N FOR ADVANCE. OF COLORED PEOPLE v. Patty, Civ. A. No. 2435
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • January 21, 1958
    ...Taylor, D.C.E.D.N.C.1957, 152 F.Supp. 295, from which may be inferred a position contrary to the Davis and Baskin cases. Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281, is the third case upon which the majority bases its conclusion upon this point. It must be borne in mind that L......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
332 cases
  • Lucas v. Wisconsin Electric Power Company, No. 71-1113.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 2, 1972
    ...238 U.S. 368, 35 S.Ct. 932, 59 L.Ed. 1349 (1915); Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, 47 S.Ct. 446, 71 L.Ed. 759 (1927); Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281 (1939), and misuse of state authority in ways not intended by the State, see, e. g., Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 8......
  • Sheridan v. Garrison, Civ. A. No. 67-1147.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 28, 1967
    ...facts would create a cause of action for damages. Compare Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909, with Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed 1281."The relation of ...
  • Romero v. Weakley, No. 1712-SD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 5, 1955
    ...v. Harris, 1903, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (the principles of which are affirmed but distinguished in Lane v. Wilson, 1939, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L. Ed. 1281), is authority for the proposition that a court of equity would be justified in a Fourteenth Amendment case i......
  • NATIONAL ASS'N FOR ADVANCE. OF COLORED PEOPLE v. Patty, Civ. A. No. 2435
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Virginia)
    • January 21, 1958
    ...Taylor, D.C.E.D.N.C.1957, 152 F.Supp. 295, from which may be inferred a position contrary to the Davis and Baskin cases. Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281, is the third case upon which the majority bases its conclusion upon this point. It must be borne in mind that L......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 books & journal articles
  • THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: IMMIGRATION, RACISM, AND COVID-19.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 169 Nbr. 2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...(holding that state laws barring African Americans from jury service violated the Equal Protection Clause). (207) E.g., Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 271 (1939) (striking down a twelve-day voter registration period that overwhelmingly disenfranchised African American (208) See, e.g., Michel......
  • The United States Supreme Court and the Segregation Issue
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 304-1, March 1956
    • March 1, 1956
    ...Butler v. Thompson, 97 F.Supp. 17 (E. D., Va., 1951), aff’d, 341 U. S.937 (1951).17 Bailey v. Alabama, 219 U. S. 219.18 238 U. S. 347.19 307 U. S. 268 (1939).20 Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U. S. 536 (1927),and Nixon v. Condon, 286 U. S. 73 (1932).21 295 U. S. 45 (1935).22 321 U. S. 649 (1944).23 ......
  • The South Counterattacks: the Anti-Naacp Laws
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 12-2, June 1959
    • June 1, 1959
    ...Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587 (1935); Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536(1927); Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73 (1932). 7 Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268 (1939); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953). 8 Norris v. Alabama, supra note 6; Hale v. Kentucky, 303 U.......

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